An Unusual Hike through Verdant Farmland
Nepal is not all about high altitude week-long trekking, there are many short hikes around Kathmandu Valley that are also rewarding.
Kathmandu and other major cities in the valley may be highly urbanized, yet, there are some nearby places that are still quite pristine, and great for weekend walks.
On the outskirts of Kathmandu Valley lie endless, challenging trails that are ideal for weekend hikes. Whether you start your trek from Godavari, Sankhu, Sundarijal, Budanilkantha, Thankot, Chovar, or anywhere at the edge of the valley, there’s much to see and explore. One of my recent, unplanned hikes started from Chovar and ended in Khokana, eight kilometers south of Kathmandu in Lalitpur district. However, one can go further on and wind up in Bungamati, home of the Rato Machhendranath.
Get to Chovar either by bus or taxi, or ask someone to drop you off. Cross the bridge to the other side and head up along the rough motor road. Decades ago, I had walked along the banks of the Bagmati here, enjoying the sight and sounds of numerous bird species, but this time it was impossible to find the rough path I had once traversed. Over time, many paths disappear once they are overtaken by thick vegetation, and you are forced to find alternate routes. So, climb up and walk about ten/fifteen minutes along the motor road until you find a road going downhill; this leads through rich, cultivated fields on the plain below. You will find an animal care center along the road. The area along the banks of the Bagmati is one of the best sights in the valley, with lush green rice fields covering ninety percent of the land all the way to the next gorge in Dukuchap, which is beyond Bungamati and Dakshinkali. The only people you’ll meet are farmers and their offspring, who are out in the scorching sun tending to their crops, or grazing cattle.
During the monsoon, walking around here can be messy, as some areas get soaked, and the path is slippery and muddy. Some paths may even be slightly submerged, so use your instincts to find the best route through so that you don’t get too wet. It is best to ask for directions whenever you find people along the path.
Further down, you’ll come across a broader road that leads to Khokana. There are many striking shades of green among the crops that cover much of the fertile land here during this time of year. Sadly, there is not much scope for walking along the banks of the river, just the occasional foray, as there are no paths near the Bagmati. There is not much activity along this famous river; all the activity is seen within the city, but once it leaves the outskirts of Kathmandu, few people are encountered near it. Along the Khokana road, you will find many Newar women engaged in weeding or planting, and they add color to the surroundings, as everything else is green. Surprisingly, along the Bagmati, I have come across people from diverse ethnic groups such as Tamang, Rai, Chettri, Danuwar, and Newar on one of my recent hikes.
I was finally walking on a road close to the Bagmati when I saw a brand new suspension bridge in the distance and headed towards it. A surprise awaited me there, as the bridge seemed to lead nowhere; there is no road on the other side, not even a rough track. All I could see past the bridge was rice fields, and someone has even built a bamboo ladder to climb up to the bridge. After the bridge, it was possible to climb up and reach the Shree Kali Temple on the plateau above. As is common these days, I encountered a number of film crews who seem to consider this the ideal place for location shooting, as they call it. There were three groups of colorful dancers and young film-makers preparing to shoot as I reached the top; each had occupied a different section of the plateau. The temple sits squarely in the middle of this large space that is also ideal for picnics. Looking down from this vantage point, one sees endless rice fields and cattle grazing on the verdant grasslands down by the river. At the edge of the plateau is a cluster of trees above the Bagmati River that seems to attract an unusually large number of birds whose cacophony attracts you immediately. I did get a few shots, but nothing to get excited about.
On the other side of the Bagmati, the road to Dakshinkali can be seen on the steep slope that rises up to Champa Devi, another popular hiking destination. Leaving the plateau, I walked down to the rice fields and found the final stretch of the road leading to Khokana. Along this road you may come across mountain bikers, as this route is a favorite among Kathmandu's adventure seekers. How often have we read about a bike ride to Khokana! The road is perfect for bikers, and the greenery is just astounding.
Khokana can be seen from a distance, as it sits atop a ridge rising above the surrounding flat lands. The road abruptly climbs up, and here lies the best piece of farmland. The rice terraces resemble half of an amphitheater, simply mesmerizing. Sadly, houses are cropping up in the middle of this spectacular farmland, and if the Nijgadh highway is built along this stretch of the river banks as planned, the endless greenery will soon be replaced by rows of ugly concrete buildings and a very wide road buzzing with noisy traffic, the curse of development. The transformation will be heart-wrenching for any nature lover.
Climb up to Khokana, and you can rest your weary bones at the first chautara (resting place under a large tree) that you encounter before entering the town. As usual, I found some old women, with bad teeth, taking a breather here. Their friendly smiles were heartwarming, and they didn’t mind being photographed. The moment you enter the town, you are greeted by bright red chilies hanging from the windows, and garlic in bunches lined up next to them for drying. Khokana is famous for locally made mustard oil, with the unmistakable strong smell that they emanate. The old traditional oil presses seem to be giving way to modern machinery that are replacing them rapidly. The people of Khokana are known to prefer raising ducks over chicken, and you encounter quite a few along the streets. The town has just a few decent eateries near the bus park, and I had my first cup of tea here. A house that has been converted into a museum claims to be the first to be electrified in the whole of Nepal. The fact that Nepal’s first hydro power station is not very far from Khokana makes it all plausible. However, modernization is creeping into Khokana at an amazingly slow pace, which on the other hand, is great for tourism.
I was just in time for a jatra (procession) that actually consisted of a large group of Newars from Bhaktapur. They were assembled outside the largest temple in Khokana, the Rudrayani Temple, dedicated to a manifestation of Goddess Durga, and they soon moved out playing flutes and traditional drums. The temple is said to have been built around 1513 during the reign of Amar Malla. Most of the men were in matching uniforms, while the ladies came out in haku patasi, the unique red and black sari that Newar women of the farming community wear. I had another cup of tea near the temple as I waited for the procession to move out. I then found my way to the bus station and caught one heading for Lagankhel.
These weekend hikes around or outside the valley are refreshing, and especially the ones that take you to a higher elevation where it's much cooler, and the fresh mountain air gives you a boost of much needed energy. These hikes are a pleasant way to escape the pollution of the city and get to know Kathmandu Valley better and make interesting discoveries along the way. Go for it!
1. The area along the banks of the Bagmati is one of the best sights in the valley, with lush green rice fields covering ninety percent of the land all the way to the next gorge in Dukuchap, which is beyond Bungamati and Dakshinkali.
2. A house that has been converted into a museum claims to be the first to be electrified in the whole of Nepal. The fact that Nepal’s first hydro power station is not very far from Khokana makes it all plausible.